Introduction to St. Matthew
T WO thoughts have been prominent in writing these Lessons on St. Matthew's Gospel. It may be well to indicate them here.
The first is the thought of Christ's "Kingdom of God" as a sort of colony of Heaven down here on earth. A leading idea of ancient Rome was that of the founding of colonies throughout the world, whose laws should be the laws of Rome, and whose citizens should have the same duties and privileges as the citizens of the Imperial City. An idea something like this runs through the New Testament references to the founding of the "Kingdom of God," and especially in St. Matthew's Gospel, which is preëminently the "Gospel of the Kingdom." These Lessons on St. Matthew are, therefore, written with the central thought that our Lord's aim for His "Kingdom" was that it should be a sort of "colony" of Heaven to be founded on earth—a colony whose laws should be the laws of Heaven, whose subjects should be obedient to the authority of Heaven's King; and whose future should be in the perfect Kingdom of Heaven above.
Try to carry on this thought, which will be suggested to you all through by the titles of the Lessons. The children can easily be taught to get hold of it. Think of the Roman colony at Philippi, whose citizens so identified themselves with the far-off Imperial City, rejecting "customs not lawful for us to receive or to observe, being Romans" (Acts xvi. 21). Think of St. Paul's teaching about the colony of the Kingdom of Heaven to these same Philippians, so proud of being citizens of Imperial Rome—"Our citizenship is in Heaven" (Philippians iii. 20, R.V.). Try to press on the children this thought of the Kingdom of God on earth as a colony of Heaven. There are "customs not lawful for us to receive or observe, being members of the Kingdom of God." Try to teach them the real, practical religion implied in being members of that Kingdom. The thought is worked out more fully in Lesson III.
The second thought is this: that in order that the children may learn to love and trust our blessed Lord, it is above all things necessary that they should get to KNOW HIM; to become acquainted with Him in the same sense as one gets to know and become acquainted with a human friend. It is little use to tell them of the duty of loving or trusting Him. We can never love or trust anybody as a duty. We have learned to trust our dearest friends simply by knowing them, by letting their character reveal itself till we could no longer withhold our trust. That is the only way of learning to love or trust anybody, God or man.
Therefore must it be the prominent object in teaching the Gospel story that the child should insensibly be "acquainting himself with God," learning God's character, getting into touch with the heart of Jesus Christ. The events of the history, however interesting, must never obscure this. The purpose of every lesson must be to show His tenderness, His unselfishness, His patience, His love; taking care, in the proper places, to emphasize also His sterner side: His anger at hypocrisy; His indignant championship of the little ones; His sensitiveness to pain, and yet His calm courage in facing pain for others' sake.
Do not worry the child with demands for admiration of these qualities. Do not keep telling him that he ought to love and admire, etc. Only pray for grace to present the Christ-character aright. Have faith in the power of that character to win all you desire.
Which of us has not often prayed for more love and trust in Christ, and more enthusiasm about Him? We know that we could love—aye, love enthusiastically—such a man if He lived in our midst to-day, and IF WE KNEW HIM intimately, as we know our closest friend. Therefore, surely, the highest thing we can do for the children is to help them to know Him while their hearts are young and susceptible. It is the only thing that matters much—thus knowing Christ. It is good to know obscure prophecies, and understand Bible difficulties, and good to have clear views about many theological dogmas; but all are of minor importance to the great object of the study of the Bible—to "KNOW THEE, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent."